Abolishing the death penalty should go to referendum

Dear Editor,

On an almost daily basis we are treated to reports of very violent crimes being committed in our country. Along with these heinous acts of criminality, there are also the very frequent reports of suicides and road-traffic related deaths. It leads one to wonder exactly how much value do Guyanese put on this most precious thing we call life.

But what about our sentencing policies? You may have a judge who hands down some lengthy sentences for heinous crimes, and while it is nice to have people like that around, as a poor nation, can we really afford to maintain vicious killers in jail for such lengthy periods – 40+ years? Even at a modest daily maintenance rate of $2,500 per prisoner (all related expenses considered) it would cost almost a million dollars a year to keep a prisoner behind bars. What is the trade-off with society in these cases; how does a poor society actually benefit?

The ordinary man will conclude that to spend $40 million at today’s rates on a single prisoner for the remainder of his life in jail, is a complete loss to society. Why not go the other route? Even though our legal system provides for the imposition of the death penalty, and there is nothing preventing its imposition in such cases, no death sentence has been carried out for years.

A recent local report states that Guyana is set to join global efforts to abolish the death penalty (Guyana Times, November 24). Fine, you cannot pretend to be civilized yet have barbaric state-sanctioned tendencies at the same time, but what was the level of public consultation which elicited the kinds of responses that advised such a move?

Are the issues of crime, criminality and applicable punishment not significantly serious enough to warrant widespread public discourse, before such decisions are taken? The outcome of broad-based and participatory public consultations is likely to be very different from consultations had among just a few social organizations which often seem to be built around elitists in our society. At the same time, let us not so willingly bow to external public pressure and quickly acquiesce without fully ventilating the issue; after all it is one of utmost public concern.

The retention of the death-penalty has long been a contentious issue. So have been the independence, objectivity and effectiveness of our security, intelligence and judicial systems. As a truly democratic country, I suggest we put the issue of retaining the death penalty to a public test. The families that have had to deal with loss of loved ones have as much a stake in this issue as the ones championing human rights ideals. We will soon have a good opportunity to let John and Jane Public give their consent to the direction in which we want to go.

I humbly suggest that we include a referendum on the retention of the death penalty when we go to the polls for local government elections in March 2016.

Yours faithfully,

Khemraj Tulsie

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